Friday, November 24, 2017

Nothing Black About This Friday

It's been a while since I've been able to post here - Sorry about that, folks. Since August, I've been teaching a couple of college-prep writing classes, and it seems that all my time is spent grading essays. And if I'm not grading essays, then I'm feeling guilty about not grading essays because I'm up to my knees in them.

Anyhow, today is "Black Friday" but instead of going shopping and fighting the crowds at the mall and the big box stores, I got out for a bike ride with an old friend.
Hello, old friend.
I didn't have time to ride very far, as I had to bake bread for the Thanksgiving sequel - Thanksgiving II: The In-Laws. But in Akron this morning we were greeted by stunningly clear skies, and I figured I could get out for an hour or so without messing up any plans. It was chilly in the upper 30s when I headed out, but temps had risen up into the low 40s by the time I was pointed toward home. A thick wool jersey over a wool undershirt, some fleecy tights, and a wool cap under my helmet were sufficient for a comfortable ride. I felt the chill at the beginning, especially on the long fast descent into the Cuyahoga Valley, but I warmed up as I continued on.

Since August I've put in a lot of cycling miles (about 1600!), but almost all of them have been commuting miles to and from work, on a totally non-retrogrouchy bike completely decked out for utilitarian duties: racks, fenders, lights, and an assortment of bags. That bike is pushing roughly 40 pounds fully equipped for commuting. Getting on the green Mercian felt so different, and not just because it's roughly 18 pounds lighter. It's got much more "aggressive" geometry and handles so nimbly. I've written lots over the years about how weight doesn't make that much difference on a bike - and if you're only talking about a couple of pounds, I still stand by that. But 18 pounds is pretty significant, and when accelerating from a stop, or hammering up over a small rise, the Mercian just feels so alive.
Campagnolo actually called their mechanism "Doppler" action.
It very closely mimicked the feel of the wonderful Simplex
Retrofriction, but didn't copy the inner workings.

The shifting is another thing that I have to comment on. The bike I've been commuting on has Shimano STI controls, and I've gotten so acclimated to using them almost exclusively for the past few months that I had one (very brief) brain lapse where I felt the need to shift and actually reached for a nonexistent paddle behind the brake lever. DOH! Apart from that (really, very brief) moment, I really am happy to say how much I appreciate the Campagnolo retrofriction levers on the downtube. No, they are not as "convenient" for shifting as the modern integrated brake/shift controls. But the feel of these downtube levers, and the action of the old-school, non-indexing derailleurs is just so nice. There's such a tactile connection from the lever, through the cable, to the derailleur, and you can feel the shifts happening - feel the derailleur moving the chain across the cogs or the chainrings. That feedback is largely missing from today's integrated controls. This is especially true for front shifting, and I would even go so far as to say that Campy's '70s and '80s era front derailleurs shift better than front derailleurs from any brand made today. I really feel like the front shifting with Shimano STI is particularly abysmal, especially when shifting from the big chainring to the smaller one. Know what I'm talking about? You push the shift paddle until it gives a very distinct KERCHUNK, then the derailleur's return spring takes over and slams the chain down to the smaller ring. Campy's Ergo controls feel better to me in that regard, but I still enjoy the feel of a nice pair of downtube levers. I have no interest in electronic shifting.

Anyhow - I'll just wrap this up by saying what a pleasure it was to get out on this day-after-Thanksgiving on such a sweet-riding, nimble bike, and I hope some of you were able to enjoy a good holiday ride as well.